hummingbird_1Here comes another Amazon competitor. Shelf Awareness reports that a new startup called Hummingbird Digital Media, founded by American West Books who supplies books to Costco, Sams Club, and other retailers, wants to “democratize e-book retailing.” Exhorting publishers, retailers, and authors to “Imagine a world where e-book sales were not dominated by three huge companies,” Hummingbird promises to offer a turnkey program to let retailers, non-profits, conferences, and even individuals such as bloggers and authors sell e-books to their customers.

The program will cover both e-books and audiobooks. It includes an operating system-agnostic app and a web-based storefront, both of which will be branded with the identity of the entity running the store. Reportedly the store will include “hundreds of thousands” of titles from thousands of publishers. The article mentions Macmillan, Harpercollins, Workman, and Sourcebooks.

Commenters on The Passive Voice are less impressed with the service. They note that no specific terms are available for the store unless one creates an account to get sent their “standard agreement,” and it seems like an awful lot of work to do for an uncertain percentage of the list price instead of just putting the book up on Amazon and collecting 70%.

In the end, it looks like yet another attempt to compete with Amazon by getting entities that want to compete with Amazon—like independent bookstores—to do the work for them. The problem is, having a solution available to compete with Amazon isn’t the problem, at least not for bookstores. Bookstores already have one, via Kobo and the American Booksellers Association. The question is, is anybody actually using it? If bookstores can’t get any interest in a platform with a reasonably well-known partner, how can they hope to do so with an unknown?

From a search optimization point of view the name seems a bit unfortunate as well. Trying to search on Hummingbird Digital Media, even with quotation marks, keeps bringing up references to Google’s “Hummingbird” search algorithm.


  1. Hey Chris all good comments.
    To address some of them: Publishers (self-publishers too) get 50% of their list price. This compares to the 70% less the delivery charge Amazon pays. However if the publisher chooses to have a merchant account and offer his or her books from their own storefront, they end up making approximately 23% from their merchant account plus the 50% from being a vendor to HDM or 73%. This beats Amazon. And why send your customers away? Does Amazon give the publisher any information about who bought what? We do, including the e-mail address of the buyer. What publisher doesn’t want to connect to his readers? Of course, being in both Amazon and Hummingbird Digital Media’s catalogs is like having your print books in different stores. We’ll have more than 2,000 merchants– including many ABA member bookstores–selling from HDM’s catalog. Why would a publisher want to leave those sales on the table? BTW, Google can now find Hummingbird Digital Media. Be happy to answer any other questions anyone has. I’m at

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